It happens a lot: a game is loved, but that game is old, and its original developers or publishers switch off the servers required for it to function. At that point the game’s community often steps in by breaking open the code to either find ways around the online copy protection, or to allow its multiplayer modes to function on new player-controlled servers.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organisation who fight for consumer’s digital rights, have now filed paperwork to make this process a guaranteed exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. In other words, the practice would stand on firmer legal ground.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, more commonly referred to as the DMCA, is what enables copyright-holders to quickly have copied works taken down when they’re posted online without permission. If you’ve ever seen a previously viewable video vanish from YouTube, there’s at least some chance that was because of a DMCA filing. Unfortunately it’s also frequently used inappropriately as, for example, bots crawl YouTube and file erroneous DMCA claims against non-infringing works. It then falls to the legitimate owner or uploader spend great time and effort fighting against the false claim.
That’s why the EFF regularly fight against the DMCA, and are now filing for the extension and addition of new standing exemptions to the policy. The part relevant to videogames is described thus:
EFF’s other requests this rulemaking include one for users who want to continue to play “abandoned” video games. For example, some users may need to modify an old video game so it doesn’t perform a check with an authentication server that has since been shut down.
The PDF filing itself is available also, and goes into greater detail as to the need for the exemption:
Already, authentication servers for some products using the always-online single player model have shut down, suggesting an uncertain future for these games. Another troubling trend for the preservation and continued playability of games is the move to digital sales mediated by third parties, like Steam, PlayStation Network (PSN) or Xbox Live. In 2013, 53% of game sales were digital – up from 41% in 2012. Although digital sales have numerous advantages, and many consumers find them preferable to buying physical media, they introduce additional failure points into the games. Developers may run their own authentication servers, but games may also be required to “check in” with the platform the game was purchased from. This creates another set of servers that must continue to function for games to be playable.
The asked for exemption wouldn’t apply to MMOs, but would “allow players to continue to explore and play games they already own, and help preservationists remove authentication mechanisms in order to format shift games so that future gamers may enjoy and learn from them.” Which sounds like a very sensible thing, and a much needed thing as more games rely on the internet in one way or another.